We’ve chosen to focus our relaunch around the theme: EVOLVE. Transformation is core to who we are, and we put it out to The Inertia’s influencers and most talented contributors to share moments that caused significant personal growth and transformation – ideally with some relation to surfing, but also to life in general. This is Greg Long’s moment.
On December 10, 2009, I paddled off the beach at Waimea Bay to surf the final one-hour heat of the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau. I was sitting in next-to-last place on the ratings after my first heat, and needed to ride four outstanding waves in order to overtake Kelly Slater, who was in first place. Technically, it wasn’t impossible, but the odds were certainly not in my favor. As the horn blew signifying the start of my heat, the biggest sets of the day began relentlessly storming the bay. With intense focus and determination, I honed in and successfully rode the biggest and best four waves I could find, exiting the water with 15 minutes still remaining. Touching down on the sand, I was swarmed by friends who ecstatically informed me the cumulative score total of my four waves had just eclipsed those posted by Kelly Slater. In an unprecedented comeback, riding four waves in 45 minutes I fulfilled a lifelong goal… I had just won the Eddie.
Still wet, in disbelief, and overwhelmed with emotion, I was rushed onto the main stage. A supercharged crowd gathered round as the top five finishers were announced and I was crowned champion. Floating somewhere between a state of shock, disbelief, and euphoria, I was handed an oversized check and microphone, and did my best to articulate the sentiment and honor I felt behind winning the event. Once off the stage, I fielded a barrage of interviews on the beach until the sun dropped over the horizon. The excitement surrounding my win continued for about a week as I was inundated with media requests and interviews. Then, just as fast as I was whisked up the beach and onto the stage that afternoon, the excitement ended and, for the first time, I had a moment to reflect on what actually happened that day… and I found myself struggling to remember. While my childhood dream had come true, the finer details of my greatest surfing accomplishment had been lost somewhere between my intense focus on the water and the chaotic excitement on the beach that day. The moments I could recollect were spotty, and felt like they only played on fast-forward in my mind. In a strange way, I felt like I had been cheated of something. I had accomplished the goal of a lifetime, yet I kept thinking “shouldn’t I be able to remember and feel more?” I sat on that question for a while, and eventually it was in the word, “lifetime,” that I found my answer.
I began pouring over all the memories I had in conjunction with The Eddie, beginning from the days as a pre-pubescent grom, when I had first conceptualized my dream of winning. I suddenly realized that there was seemingly a lifetime of memories. I recalled the countless hours of dedication and training in effort to improve my big wave skills, hoping one day I might become worthy of an invitation to this most cherished celebration in honor of Hawaii’s greatest lifeguard, waterman and ambassador of Aloha. I remembered so many late nights, staying up watching videos of my surfing idols at Waimea, studying every wave and each surfer’s technique, hoping to extract knowledge I might use as my own. I recalled the afternoon my brother Rusty and I talked each other into paddling out and surfing Waimea for the first time… I was 15 and we were on 7’ 6”s. I vividly pictured the exact moment, and who I was with when I saw my name on the alternate invitee list for the first time; I remembered my nervousness upon first meeting the Aikau family, but quickly being overcome by their love and heart-warming gift of Aloha. I reminisced of my first opening ceremony, sitting in a circle with those same heroes who I used to study and idolize in the old videos. And I vividly recall of the shit-eating grin on Mark Healey’s face as he nonchalantly watched me panic the first time I was faced with being caught inside a closeout set at the bay.
Reflecting on the bigger picture, I came to see and feel something so much greater than the achievement of winning the event that day. The feeling that enveloped me was the sum of a lifetime worth of lessons, experiences and blessings that I had encountered on my journey through life to that moment.
I will always acknowledge winning the Eddie as my greatest surfing achievement. But as I look back now, I don’t think about four waves, 45 minutes, or point totals. Whether I had won or not did not matter in the end. Awards and accolades are mere accents to our life stories. All that happens in the space between is what our lives are built upon and what shapes who we really are. It is those moments that become the essence of that which truly matters, and they are the ones that I cherish the most.